Ukrainian Diary: Visiting Fairies – Culture

Our “volunteer work”, as it is called in Ukrainian, does not require highly intellectual academic discussions. Their language is concrete and pragmatic and ranges from the designations of various relief supplies such as baby food and heavy-duty detergent to Kevlar helmets, CAT tourniquets and night vision devices. We do not exchange ideas about spiritual matters. The locations of our work are our offices, which have long since become mini camps, and our university camp, which fortunately is only a five-minute walk away.

The campaign, which we are implementing thanks to the initiative of T’s wife, promises a little change. N. works in the regional children’s library, which would like to organize an event for children from internally displaced families, preferably one where the kids talk to a real author and are given a book. They are in contact with several schools and there is also interest on their part.

So we plan: a book presentation, a conversation with the author and a gift bag with it – with a book, crayons, a drawing pad and something to snack on. It is made possible by a child donation from Candler Schifffahrt GmbH, which went to us thanks to Natalie Shtefunyk from Bremen, who was born in Bukovina.

The incomparable smell of books pervades the building

We quickly agreed on the title of the book: “Lehendy Tschernivziw wid tschornoji wiwzi” (“Legends from Chernivtsi of the Black Sheep”) by Chrystja Wenhrynjuk it should be. The Ukrainian title is onomatopoeic and alludes to the popular etymological explanation of the city’s name – “chorni viwzi”, “black sheep”. This is also the name of the children’s book publisher whose editor-in-chief is Wenhrynjuk. The black sheep is the character in the book who tells Chernivtsi stories.

We think it is exactly the right thing for the children from other regions who now have to live longer or shorter in Chernivtsi. T., his journalism colleague L. and I manage the purchases, a total of 65 children from three schools are expected. The library invites television, the head of the cultural department of the regional administration and us, the “volunteers”. There are a total of three appointments, S. and I as the “main volunteers” come to the first. The library in the old Austrian building welcomes us with the incomparable smell of books, it has something nostalgic, calming and unsettling at the same time. For me it is one of the most formative smells of my childhood. In the house where we lived there was a small children’s library in the basement. I went there so often that the librarian sometimes asked suspiciously whether I had actually read the books I had borrowed.

“I hate Russians” – some children’s sentences make you want to cry

There are about twenty elementary school children, Chrystia presents the book, there are always questions and comments, we have to smile about some of them, for example when a boy says he thinks so many facades are crumbling in Chernivtsi because the houses are so old. Other statements make you want to cry. “I’m from Mariupol, it’s a city that doesn’t exist anymore, have you heard about it?” “I hate Russians because they destroyed my favorite plane Mriya.” I wish children were allowed to speak more, but there is one scenario that one staff member would like to adhere to. I can talk about the donors and say that our supporters are based in Bremen, does anyone know the fairy tale about the Bremen Town Musicians? Three actually know it.

The regional government official, who is relatively new to the job and whom I’m seeing for the first time, talks about the “fairies who came to visit today”. In any case, she doesn’t speak typical official language, which is very gratifying. The name also goes very well with Chrystia, her petite figure and long blond hair actually have something fairy-like about them. But that’s not the only reason she’s admirable. The author has been campaigning for many causes since the first day of the aggressive war, for soldiers as well as for internally displaced persons, and she has a little daughter who was born a few weeks after the war began. Chrystia has been living between Bulgaria and Chernivtsi for years, she has a Bulgarian husband, she could be near Sofia now, but she decided to stay. Almost every day she reports on Facebook about the purchases from the donations, asks for the new ones and writes in Bulgarian for “your dear Bulgarians” about the war.

A balancing act between a toddler, the endless volunteer work and the editorial work at that, I wonder how something like that is done and where she gets the strength from. I suppose Chrystia’s strength – like ours – is fed by hope and the feeling that there are many things to be held accountable for in this life. For the children – and in the photo together – she is remembered above all as an enchanting, pretty young woman who writes fairy tales and talks about how books are made. A little distraction for all present, who gather within the walls of the library to leave the reality of war outside for a little while.

Read more episodes of this column here.

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